With fewer industry gatherings these days, we tend to pack as much discussion and debate into the ones that remain – and the StreamTV Show in Denver this week was no exception. Nearly 1,000 streaming execs, entrepreneurs, and business gurus converged on the Westin Westminster to try to derive order from an industry that seems to have descended into chaos.
But certain takeaways suggest some light at the end of the streaming tunnel as we work to tame the fractured pandemonium of SVODs, AVODs, FASTs, virtual and traditional MVPDs, connected TV players, platforms, aggregators, bundlers, swindlers, and outlaws ramming into each other like busy commuters navigating Grand Central Station. They’re all going somewhere, barreling ahead, as others dart in opposite directions. Now these hurried souls are starting to notice each other. And as competitors become partners and vice versa, everyone is starting to admit that the present chaos needs to become the ecosystem of the future if anyone is to survive.
It’s hard to pull out one big theme from the show, but the need for cooperation did rear its head multiple times over the two days of discussions. That’s not to say that companies aren’t fighting to “win,” but with so many players on so many platforms, the only way to create a robust competitive playing field is by tearing down the walls between the studios, streamers, traditional MVPDs and others – even when those walls might seem protective. They’re really not. So, as Verizon and Cox aggregate streaming apps through +play and Contour in seeming conflict with their traditional MVPD services, it’s a necessary evolution. As Jake Cohen, Verizon’s head of business development and strategy, put it during our Wednesday panel, “We can be Switzerland.” Perhaps that’s the future for all. In fact, recent aggregation deals may be a small part of a larger rebundling into cable-like streaming packages residing on more efficient broadband pipes. Sports is another increasingly fractured beast, with games spread across multiple networks, broadcast stations, and streamers, and Cox VP, content distribution Mark Gathen commenting that no one knows where to find their teams anymore. Content that used to live within an organized bundle has been blown into a million pieces over the last decade. The industry seems to be toying with ways to put those pieces back together again.
Next? We’re amid an era of rebundling combined with a more fearless and less protective content outlook. Streamers that had clawed back IP to exclusively house it within SVODs are now removing shows and licensing them out to competitors or at least FAST services competing for the same eyeballs. Tricia Lynch, Philo’s VP of content acquisition, noted that Philo now leaves its FAST channels on for customers that churn out of the virtual MVPD service, which has helped re-acquire those customers later. “We have a high win-back experience,” she said. “We want to keep an open door and invite them back into our ecosystem.” Take the concept a step further, and maybe some SVODs or vMVPDs start offering a few titles or channels for free just to stay in front of high-value customers they can monetize in other ways. Perhaps everyone needs to trust in the developing ecosystems and support structures that are starting to emerge as consumers seek simplicity and structure rather than an endless hunt for what they want to watch. Make no mistake: It’s still the wild west, but the townspeople are crying out for some law and order. And we just may be the sheriff we’ve been waiting for.